Challenging Worldviews, Fundraising for Refugees, and Fighting Frustration
If there is one thing Mariam Hamaoui would like to change, it is people’s inclination to give up at the first sign of trouble. She believes that if a vision is in sight, one should avoid the easy entrapment of apathy and follow through.
With this attitude, Mariam has co-founded RefugeAid in 2012, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees, while raising awareness about current and emerging trends affecting refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.
It all started as a one-week project at the Mosaic Institute. They had planned to raise $10,000 for Syrian refugees, but she and her colleagues were so passionate about the idea that they decided to continue with it beyond the allotted timeframe. And so started RefugeAid.
Collaborating with different nonprofits, such as Doctors Without Borders and UNHCR Canada, RefugeAid has raised just under $30,000 to date, which went towards providing medical aid, food, supplies, and shelter for Syrian refugees.
But to dedicate yourself to an issue like this one could be emotionally taxing. And it could be harsh, Mariam admits. “Constantly motivating ourselves is probably the toughest part of it all, we had no clear goal and no experience in fundraising.” When the donations began flooding in, however, motivation was no longer an issue. They knew they were on the right track.
Perhaps Mariam’s care for others and open worldview can be traced back to her high school religion teacher in Etobicoke. “He was tough on everyone, but specifically on me,” Mariam laughs as she remembers her teacher. He used to point her out and challenge her views about other religions. “He made me think critically about everything.”
This recurring exchange inspired Mariam to major in religious studies at York University. “It was different and interesting; I learned about various polytheistic religions, as well as Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, among others. And I realized how little I knew about other religions.”
At York University, Mariam continued to expand her horizons and became involved in many projects and organizations. Besides presiding over RefugeAid, she is the co-founder of the Middle Eastern Students' Association (MESA) at York University, where she just concluded her presidency, and is the director of the York Federation of Students (YFS) at Vanier College.
Today, Mariam is looking forward to finishing her last year of undergraduate studies at York and apply for a Masters degree in social work. There, she hopes to focus on immigration and refugee questions within the discipline.
She also looks forward to expanding her work at RefugeAid, where she plans to continue fundraising for Syrian refugees as well as shed light on issues that other refugee groups face in both Canada and around the world.